Imaginative, refined and mindblowing food will always be worth its price tag. Stylist’s deputy editor Susan Riley tackles eight courses at one of the UK’s top foodie hotspots
Not cooking for yourself is always a luxury, however often it occurs. No chopping or peeling, no shopping list, no threat of burn or ruin, and no washing-up. Bliss. Then there’s not cooking for yourself because you’re being fed by one of the UK’s best culinary talents. Perhaps the ultimate luxury. Especially when you get to stay over and don’t have to drive home afterwards, the breakfast buffet and in-room fridge selection all reminders that you don’t have to lift a culinary finger.
For foodie getaways in 2017, Lympstone Manor is right up there. Only opened in spring this year, it’s already been awarded a Michelin star and is the brainchild of Michael Caines MBE: revered chef, holder of two Michelin stars for 18 years, and local lad – hailing directly from the area around Lympstone Manor in east Devon. Just a 10-minute drive from Exeter airport and overlooking the Exe estuary, in Lympstone Caines has tastefully renovated a Grade II-listed Georgian manor house into what can only be described as a Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons for the modern era.
Crunch crunch crunch. No, not the food: the driveway as you approach, a crisp sound that’s as comforting as a crackling log fire at this time of year. Cars are tucked away in a car park out of sight of the house itself so you get the full splendour of the property and its lands as you approach. At the front, bikes line up ready for you to ride; at the back 28 acres of countryside stretches out.
Inside, the decor is heavily influenced by that countryside. The birds of the estuary have been used as a central motif, imprinted on the walls downstairs and used as the names for all 21 bedrooms. We are in Tern, a grand estuary suite in the extension. These rooms all have their own private gardens, with a chunky wooden gate so that you almost feel like you’ve rented a sea villa for the evening. Each has seating, fire pit and voluminous outdoor marble soak tub: impractical in British weather, especially with neighbours either side, but who cares. I, for one, am not going to complain about any additional baths on offer. The room itself has a dinky lounge at the front (with a gin tray, people), bedroom in the middle and a glorious open bathroom at the back complete with another giant bath. Gold this time. Which one to fill up first? A tough decision while reaching for that gin…
There’s lots to do in the local area but if you’re here for just one night intent on consumption, like us, I suggest a gentle cycle or strolling The Lady’s Walk,a short walking tour devised in the 1700s that circumnavigates the grounds and allows you a peek of the estuary. It only takes half an hour and is the perfect limber-up before dinner and All. That. Food.
A pre-dinner drink really sets the tone of the evening here. After a blustery walk from Tern (the outside gravel plays havoc with heels FYI) we settle at the bar (copper for an extra dose of decadence) for an aperitif. Order a Lympstone in Bloom cocktail – champagne mixed with Chase grapefruit gin and elderflower – to try Michael Caines’ own vintage. Drink is as much a focus as food here, after all – there’s a wine tasting room and plans to plant a vineyard on the slopes outside.
The restaurant is carved up into a few separate dining rooms, each with a different vibe and feel, which works with the original layout of the house and guards against a lack of ambience at quieter times. It means eating here is an intimate and refined experience – and the service xis faultless.
What to order? Well there’s obviously à la carte, but go for one of the tasting menus: either the Taste of the Estuary or the eight-course signature, which currently takes you on a journey from roasted Brixham scallop through slow-cooked partridge with quince purée and raisins, all the way to a white chocolate candle with rose and raspberry sorbet. Menus change seasonally, though, and in early summer when I was there, the menu standout was the finale dessert that painstakingly recreated an orange – from the crispy external shell to the chocolate innards. Insanely technical and so, so memorable. The kind of thing you can’t believe has been created and you’re getting to eat.
And a big shout-out to breakfast the next morning: it had the prettiest and most delicate croissant I have ever eaten, painted with dark pink stripes like an artwork. Don’t tell the French, they’ll all want one.
Being a guest here is a refined and considered experience. The only small caveat of which being that – however new and sparkly – it does feel quite old-school. Albeit midweek, our fellow diners were certainly at the wiser and more worldly end of the clientele scale, and it does contribute to a vibe that mightn’t immediately be your thing. Unless of course you’re wanting to pull out all the stops and impress someone…
And it did impress me. Especially when I saw Michael Caines himself with his head in a cupboard sorting out prep for dinner. Because his flair and attention to detail is exactly what you’re paying for at Lympstone – and you get it in spades.
Double rooms at Lympstone Manor (lympstonemanor.co.uk, 01395 202040) start at £305 per night, based on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis; à la carte dinner starts at £115; lunch starts at £45 for two courses